Energy COOL: Vertical Urban Gardening

The Globe faces many challenges, that intersect in very complex system-of-system ways.  There are no Single Shot/Silver Bullet solutions out there. But, in some ways, there are solution sets that provide an integrated solution set that make them a potentially valuable Silver BB.

Our challenges include Peak Oil, Global Warming, clean water constraints, food supply challenges (including every increasing food miles, how far food is traveling to the dinner table), poor urban infrastructure, urban heat islands, housing challenges, etc …

Vertical urban agriculture offers a potential silver BB in this domain … with a new concept from Seattle offering one of the most integrated and interesting approaches that I’ve seen to date.

Green roofs are something that are valuable for energy efficiency, urban cooling, water runoff management, and other reasons (some references in notes at end of diary) — including that simple pleasure of beauty …  Rather than simply green roofing, however, the question can become how to convert that green roof to producing food — think organic tomatoes from your rooftop.  


has embarked on a project to increase the amount of greenery on rooftops. This provided a good opportunity for housewives and youth to use their time fruitfully and increase oxygen production in a choking environment.

Due to the rapid expansion of the Egyptian population, and building on cultivated land, there are limited resources for many families living in the major cities. This situation has a negative impact on the general well-being of the families living in poor urban or suburban neighborhoods. Similar conditions can be found in much of the developing world. A solution to a small part of this problem could be providing these families with an easy source of income and healthy nutrition.

Green gardens producing food on rooftops has multiple payoff potentials, economic, energy, environmental. And, beneficial in developed and developing world.

Singapore is also aggressively pursuing rooftop gardening, seeking to offset imported vegetables with fresh ones off its rooftops. (See also this Worldchanging article.) And, there are vegetables growing on rooftops in Berkeley. There is real potential for Green Roof Agriculture globally.  (See, as well, Urban Agriculture on the Rooftop thesis.)

But, can this be taken a step further?  Can architecture incorporate that garden from the first moment? Can architecture design urban structures to maximize agricultural capacity? Certainly yes … question is whether this will occur.

A very interesting concept …
Mithunwon a best of show prize (Cascadia Region Green Building Council‘s Living Building Challenge) for their urban farm design that to integrate farming (vegetables, chickens) and housing to a high-rise in downtown Seattle.

The Living Building Challenge is a competition that encourages building owners, architects, engineers, and design professionals to build in a way that advances knowledge and innovation in the sustainable building industry. The term “living building” comes from the idea that it is possible to create a structure that functions like a living organism – able to survive using only the natural environment around it.  

The “Center for Urban Agriculture” (CUA)

Would be a “Fully self-sufficient building: in energy and water.”

  • 31,000 sq ft rooftop water rainwater collection with recycling of gray water (including an ability to handle some of the surrounding area’s waste water up to “20 times its own discharge potential”
  • 34,000+ sq ft of solar PV cells with hydrogen backup

Agricultural featuresinclude fields for growing veggies and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens and even a chicken farm.”

  • Local produced food is critical for changing energy patterns as “40 percent of an individual’s ecological footprint is generated by the embodied energy in food.”

Sustantial housing and some commercial activity

  • 318 apartments (studio, 1 & 2 bedroom units)
  • Restaurant; Cafe (The “Greenhouse” using building grown food.)

What is the site requirement?  .72 acres!!! Less than an acre!  Amazing when consider how much would be packed into the site and its positive impact for the community.

The CUA is far from the first or only really interesting concept for going vertical in growing food in urban areas.

A Columbia University microbiologist, Dickson Despommier, advocates 30-story skyscrapers that would, each, be able to grow food for 50,000 people, taking up roughly one city block.  From Plenty Magazine, The Farmer in the High-Rise

“It’s not just a way of generating food,” says Despommier. “It’s a way of dealing with municipal waste, recycling water, and using methane digestion to help a city be sustainable.”

While it is not happening, to me this concept is not ‘science fiction’, but more an innovative concept waiting for the confluence of events that will make it into reality.  

In 2001, the Dutch agriculture minister supported building a vertical farm in Rotterdam called Deltapark, in response to flooding farmland, livestock diseases such as swine fever, and growing agricultural pollution. Though the park hasn’t been built, the idea of linking several industries together to reduce the environmental burden of agriculture has become increasingly popular, says Jan Broeze, the Wageningen University scientist who dreamed up Deltapark. “If you cluster various activities, like greenhouses, fish farming, and manure processing, then you create a sufficient scale for more sustainable food production,” says Broeze, who is working with a group of farmers in Holland to link a chicken farm, a manure processing system, and greenhouses. “The idea is to use wastes from one industry to sustain another.”

The Vertical Farm Project is the home site for this concept and offers the most robust and sophisticated look at the opportunities and options for going vertical with food production.  There is a lot of tremendously interesting material there, with serious looks at challenges and benefits.  If you are at all tempted by the discussion, the Vertical Farm Project site is recommended for a look. It is, well, simply Energy COOL in the extreme.  


  • Hat tip to Jetson Green re the Mithun project.
  • This is an expansion of this earlier discussion.
  • RE Green Roofs, for example, Penn State Green Roof Center; Treehugger: Green Roofs, A Primer; Worldchanging; Casey Trees (Green Roofs in Washington, DC); Green Roofs for Healthy CIties (industry association); Green Roofs Australia (with great worldwide links); etc …
  • See GMoke’s excellent Growing Green in the City.
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    3 responses to “Energy COOL: Vertical Urban Gardening

    1. Pingback: The Vertical Farm Project … « Energy Smart

    2. There is so much great info here! I get excited when I see that it is possible for us to live without draining all of the earth’s resources. I can’t fund one of these eco-buildings, but I can do my part by growing my own food. There’s some good container gardening tips at I haven’t tried this yet, but may next winter.

    3. Pingback: Will the end of oil force greener lifestyles? : Centre Flow

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